Oxfam slams food brands for poor ethical performance

Oxfam has accused brand owners including Associated British Foods, Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola of not living up to their brand promises on ethics and sustainable business. The charity is calling on consumers to take to social media to put pressure on brand owners to improve.

Oxfam Behind the Brands slams brand owners’ sustainability performance.

The charity claims brands are keeping consumers “in the dark” about how they do business and are failing to meet the ethical standards consumers expect.

Its Behind the Brands report, published today (26 February), awards each manufacturer a scorecard rating it says will help consumers compare how brand owners perform in terms of social and environmental impact.

Companies, which also include Unilever, PepsiCo and Mars, are ranked according to their standards across seven different areas including the transparency of their supply chains and operations, how they ensure the rights of workers and farmers who grow their ingredients, how they protect women’s rights, the management of water and land use and policies to reduce the impacts of climate change. 

In it Oxfam accuses Associated British Foods, which owns Twinings, Patak and Amoy, as the “worst” performing of 10 global food manufactures, although it highlights some good policies such as its commitment to paying Twinings tea suppliers a living wage. Oxfam claims none of the 10 firms scores a good overall rating on public policies and commitments to protect farmers, local communities and the environment.

ABF vehemently denies the accusations, saying some of the points made in the report are “simply ridiculous”.

A spokesperson for ABF says: “We treat local producers, communities and the environment with the utmost respect. The company has worked hard for many years, over a wide geography, at all levels of the supply chain to ensure its suppliers meet the highest ethical standards.

“We are always seeking to improve and are in constant communication with our stakeholders. The publication of our next CR report in autumn 2013 will confirm significant improvement in disclosure from the previous report.”

Oxfam CEO Barbara Stocking, says: “It is time the veil of secrecy shrouding this multi-billion dollar industry was lifted. We are calling on the public to pile pressure on the ‘Big 10’ food and drinks companies so they stop being part of the problem and begin to play their part in providing solutions to the scandal which sees hundreds of millions go hungry despite there being more than enough food in the world to feed everyone.

“Business as usual is no longer acceptable, all these giants must urgently raise their game and ensure that consumers enjoying their bar of chocolate or cup of coffee are also helping the world’s poorest people.”

Brands including Mars, Kellogg’s, Unilever and Coca-Cola have also defended their practices.

Behind the Brands follows on from the launch the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which saw more than 100 charities, including Oxfam join forces to shine a light on world hunger and put pressure on the G8.

All 10 companies provided data to inform the report and scorecard ratings. If companies change their policies or make progress their scorecard will be updated.

The report comes as public confidence in the food supply chain has been rocked by the horse meat scandal.

Brand Scorecard

Score Total
1 Nestle 54% 38/70
2 Unilever 49% 34/70
3 Coca Cola 41% 29/70
4 PepsiCo 31% 22/70
5 Mars 30% 21/70
=6 Danone 29% 20/70
=6 Mondelez 29% 20/70
=8 General Mills 23% 16/70
=8 Kelloggs 23% 16/70
10 ABF 19% 13/70

Brand responses:

“Providing affordable and nutritious food for a growing global population is one of the great challenges of our time.  As one of the world’s leading food companies, Mars plays an important role in this effort and we are proud of the steps we have taken in this area.  Mars takes a comprehensive approach to this issue, with a strong focus on the entire farming community specifically in the area of cocoa sustainability. Our leadership has had a positive impact on the women, children and families of smallholder farms. Oxfam highlights important issues in their report and we look forward to working with them to address these critical issues.”

“We are aware of Oxfam’s Food and Beverage Scorecard and our ranking.

The Coca-Cola Company is committed to implementing practices throughout our supply chain that advance our sustainable agriculture strategy and support our commitment to build more sustainable communities. We believe in creating economic opportunities for women and smallholder farmers as well as stewarding water and other natural resources within the more than 200 countries in which we operate.

As part of The Coca-Cola Company’s commitment to transparent, more sustainable and responsible business practices, we welcome a continuous dialogue with Oxfam that enables us to identify and address global challenges collaboratively.”

“Kellogg’s is committed to working more closely with the farmers who grow our grains to drive improvements in sustainability and we have a zero tolerance policy against forced labour. Clearly the ratings in the Oxfam report show us we need do more and we will be reviewing them in detail.”

We believe that the issue of Food Security is a critical one that needs multi-stakeholder efforts to solve and we support the aims of the campaigns like GROW. The key issues highlighted are ones with which we are all concerned and there is no doubt that the inclusion of smallholder farmers into the food value chain is critical not only for food security but for the progress and stability of rural communities in many parts of the world.

We particularly welcome the emphasis the report places on greater transparency and on the importance of the role of women and of land rights. Indeed, we have highlighted these two issues ourselves through our CEO putting them on the agendas at the B20/G20 and WEF.

The report recognises the progress Unilever has made in its policies and practices, under its Sustainable Living Plan and including its Sustainable Sourcing Programme – although information on the more recent progress we have made was not available for inclusion in this report as our next USLP update is on April 22nd.

We do think though, that the report has missed an opportunity to look at the full range of organisations that need to come together on this. Change of this nature requires wide partnerships, and needs to stretch beyond looking at the role of branded food companies. Although branded good companies have initiated some innovative programmes to contribute to the solutions for some of the big issues, brand manufacturers are only part of the solution and we believe that meaningful progress can only be made when all relevant stakeholders – including primary producers, first processors, traders, retailers, civil society and governments – work together.

We also believe that more attention needs to be paid to the importance of improved nutrition, in addition to the issue of food security and we are working with the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Campaign and within the SUN Alliance to provide support for the broad-scale approach to eradicating hunger.
In the meantime, Unilever will continue to work on traceability and transparency of its raw material supply together with its suppliers and will seek to engage in partnerships with all relevant stakeholders to meet the targets of our Sustainable Living Plan and help solve some of the issues raised in the report.



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